Under a scheme developed before Austria's accession to the EU, each road haulier wishing to pass through the country must pay so-called "ecopoints" depending on the cleanness of its lorries. The cleaner its vehicles, the more trips it can make with a certain number of ecopoints. The total number of available ecopoints falls each year. The scheme is intended to encourage cleaner vehicles and reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from transit traffic by 60% over a 12 year period.
When Austria joined the EU each member state received an ecopoint quota for distribution to its hauliers; in addition, to control lorry numbers, Austria insisted that if the number of transit journeys in any one year was more than 8% above the number made in the 1991 base year, the following year would see an extra 20% reduction in the number of ecopoints available.
Just such an increase happened last year, though the Commission notes that NOx emissions actually fell by over 10% in the two years to 1999. It goes on to argue that member states have used this year's ecopoints on the assumption that they were receiving a full allocation. It warns that requiring a 20% reduction over the rest of this year, as stipulated in the agreement, would necessitate a halving of transit traffic from now until January.
The Commission says this would have "disproportionately major negative consequences" and is proposing to spread the reduction over a period from 2000 to 2003. Moreover, it has also taken the step, not required by the agreement, of recommending reductions just on those five countries which have increased their use of Austria's roads "far more than would have expected."
These five countries - Germany, Belgium, Italy and Greece and Austria itself - are now expected to vote against the proposal when member state officials consider it next week. The first four say the proposal is "unfair" because it will hit their haulage industries hardest. Austria wants the original agreement implemented. If the committee fails to agree the proposals then ministers will have to debate the issue.
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